Indian high commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, India pays special attention to strengthening relations with Bangladesh so that the ties bring mutual and sustainable benefits. And it is the people who are the basis of strong ties between the two nations.
He was exchanging views with senior journalists of Prothom Alo on Sunday. The meeting took place at the Prothom Alo office.
Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman welcomed the high commissioner at the start of the meeting. Harsh Vardhan Shringla then spoke and answered questions raised by the journalists.
Matiur Rahman said, “Alongside news reports, analysis and interviews, from the very outset Prothom Alo has held meetings at various levels to strengthen ties between Bangladesh and India. As an independent media organisation of Bangladesh, our stand has always been to place priority on the country’s interests. There are times when the government and other quarters do not see eye-to-eye with us. We have done this in the interest of balanced relations and we will continue in this manner in the future. After all, it is the responsibility of the media to logically question various issues.”
The Indian high commissioner said, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s 2017 Delhi visit and the 2015 Dhaka visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lent special dimension to the ties. Special attention has been paid to mutual respect and the interests of both sides in order to take the ties further ahead. Both countries agree that Bangladesh’s development is important for India, or, in other words, the development of one is essential for the other. Unless Bangladesh develops, India’s northeast cannot progress either.”
Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, “Our endeavour is to ensure that the relations are sustainable and mutually beneficial. The people of the two countries are the basis of these ties.”
The Indian high commissioner said that in recent years the solution to many of the long-standing problems between the two countries indicates how far the relations have come along. He pointed to the tariff-free entry of Bangladeshi goods to India, the implementation of the land boundary agreement, the exchange of enclaves and the settle of the maritime boundary issue.
Referring to Sheikh Hasina’s India visit, he said the visit had laid emphasis on advanced technology. This was the first time on any trip that 36 agreements and MOUs were signed. In the third loan agreement, after US$ 5 billion, Bangladesh has been given US$ 8 billion in three phases.
He pointed to several surveys that indicate the degree and depth of friendship with Bangladesh. One survey stated that 65 per cent of the people in India considered Bangladesh as an important partner of India.
Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, certain initiatives of Bangladesh had especially touched the people of India, particularly when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her Delhi trip, honoured the families of the Indian soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in 1971. He also spoke of making a film based on Bangabandhu’s life and of joint celebrations between Bangladesh and India for the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence in 2021.
Talking about the Indian visa process, Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, “After I arrived in Bangladesh last year, I had been told regularly that it was difficult to get an interview appointment online. That has been resolved. The applicant can submit the application on the very day he or she wants to do so. Tourists will be given multiple visas, businesspersons for five years, freedom fighters and those above 65 years will get for five years. And every Saturday women can submit application forms for themselves and their families at the visa centre in Shyamoli. He said things will be made even easier. This year alone, between January to June, 1.3 million from Bangladesh went to India over the Benapole, Petrapole borders.
Replying to a question about Bangladesh’s disappointment at the Teesta agreement not being signed during the prime minister’s India trip in April, the Indian high commissioner referred to the joint statement of the two prime ministers. He said, “This will be resolved. There is no question about sincerity. India is sincerely discussing the issue. However, I cannot say when the agreement will be signed.”
Concerning Bangladesh’s political condition, Harsh Vardhan said, “India will happily do what it can if Bangladesh asks for cooperation in any democratic effort. This is particularly pertinent about strengthening the democratic institutions. But when it comes to the election, our stand is clear. The election is to be free and fair. We believe that political parties in a democratic process must participate in the election. As a neighbor, we want to see Bangladesh as a successful, dynamic, democratic country. After 1975, these democratic aspirations were obstructed time and again.”
Harsh Vardhan Shringla said that the young generation was Bangladesh’s most valuable resource, with 70 per cent of the population below 40. They will not accept anything less than democracy. He said, “As neighbours, we always have best wishes for the people of Bangladesh.”